Thursday, 9 May 2013

Book Review: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
Author: Beth Hoffman
Published: Penguin, 2010

Publisher Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old CeeCee is in trouble. For years she’s been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille— the crown-wearing, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town. Though it’s 1967 and they live in Ohio, Camille believes it’s 1951 and she’s just been crowned the Vidalia Onion Queen of Georgia.

The day CeeCee discovers Camille in the front yard wearing a tattered prom dress and tiara as she blows kisses to passing motorists, she knows her mother has completely flipped. When tragedy strikes, Tootie Caldwell, a previously unknown great-aunt comes to CeeCee’s rescue and whisks her away to Savannah. Within hours of her arrival, CeeCee is catapulted into a perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricities—a world that appears to be run entirely by women.

While Tootie is busy saving Savannah’s endangered historic homes from the wrecking ball, CeeCee encounters a cast of unforgettable, eccentric characters. From the mysterious Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in an outdoor tub under the watchful eyes of a voyeuristic peacock, to Oletta Jones, the all-knowing household cook, to Violene Hobbs, the loud-mouthed widow who entertains a local police officer in her yellow see-through peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

But CeeCee’s view of the world is challenged in ways she could have never imagined: there are secrets to keep, injustices to face, and loyalties to uphold. Just as she begins to find her ballast and experiences a sense of belonging, her newfound joy collides with the long-held fear that her mother’s legacy has left her destined for destruction.

Laugh-out-loud funny, at times heartbreaking, and written in a pitch-perfect voice, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a spirited Southern tale that explores the intricate frailties and strengths of female relationships while illuminating the journey of a young girl who loses her mother but finds many others.

My Review:

This is one of those books that I've been meaning to get around to for a while. 2 weeks ago I received a notification email from Goodreads that I had won a First Reads giveaway I had entered and would be receiving an advance copy of Beth Hoffman's next novel, Looking for Me. That was the last little push I needed to crack open CeeCee Honeycutt. (Thanks again, Goodreads and Penguin Canada! Review of "Looking for Me" coming soon!)

I have to say, I am so glad I bumped Saving CeeCee Honeycutt to the top of my reading list! I absolutely adore a light, bright, sunshiney southern fiction novel. At times it reminded me of Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees (one of my all-time favourites!). The story is airy, sweet and full of some great giggles. 

I will say, however, that while I really really wanted to be able to give this book a 5 out of 5, somehow -despite all of its potential- it never quite got there for me. At times, the conversations between characters was just too "precious" or "obvious". (Sorry, I can't think of the right word to describe what is nagging at me). I guess what I mean is that the women in this book (and, yes, there are one or two minor male characters sprinkled in) are just TOO self-aware. Not as women- as characters. At times, the things that they say feel too contrived, too "lesson-y". I suppose if this were a "young adult" fiction novel, I might be less bothered by it, but it just felt too "here is your lesson, now swallow it" sometimes.  

Maybe an example will help me spit out what I am trying to explain... At one point, CeeCee makes a comment to Oletta, the housekeeper, that she is impressed with how wise the woman can be. Oletta responds, "People is wise 'cause they get out in the world and live. Wisdom comes from experience- from knowin' each day is a gift and accepting it with gladness. You read a whole lot of books, and readin' sure has made you smart, but ain't no book in the world gonna make you wise." It just feels too scripted. That's the word! Who in real life says things like that in the middle of a conversation about a party dress? (I don't want to give too much away, but it's very out of context.)

The other trouble I had with the book is that the story just felt to broken at times. Too jerky. There were some chapters (the purple sofa) that actually felt more like short stories unto themselves rather than part of a seamless whole. That, and any conflict that arose was settled so tidily. Without suspense. All surface. Even the "evil" Violene Hobbs really didn't feel so bad. I just knew I was supposed to hate her because the characters kept telling me so. 

Now that I've made it seem like I hated this book and have probably turned everyone off completely from ever reading it (those 10 people out there who have waited even longer than I did to pick it up already), please believe me when I say that I really did enjoy reading CeeCee Honeycutt. I couldn't get enough. I gulped it down in less than a week (an impressive feat for a full-time working mama of a toddler, who is also preparing for a move next month)! 

Beth Hoffman can paint a picture with words better than any author I have read recently. She really knows how to create a picture on the canvas of your imagination. And she is able to do it without going on for pages and pages and pages about a minor detail. Some sentences made me smile because she would perfectly describe what I was already seeing in my head. (The rainbow of dresses.)

"'Life is full of change, honey. That's how we learn and grow. When we're born, the Good Lord gives each of us a Life Book. Chapter by chapter, we live and learn.'"-- An obvious, but very beautiful motif throughout the entirety of the book. CeeCee is a book lover, so when she is a lost soul in need of guidance for how to go on with her life after tragedy strikes, Mrs. Odell's words provide her with a roadmap. So maybe, just maybe, the broken story chapters I mentioned above were all part of Hoffman's plan... Stop. Think about what you just read. Question why it was there. Move on. 

I have to end by saying that there were some moments when I had to stop reading and take note of a passage here and there. Because while sometimes the "scripted" monologues were distracting, there were several things-that-make-you-go-hmmm moments as well (trite or not). I leave you with some of my favourites:

"...Everyone needs to find the one thing that brings out her passion. It's what we do and share with the world that matters..." 
"...far too many people die with a heart that's gone flat with indifference, and it surely must be a terrible way to go. Life will offer us amazing opportunities, but we've got to be wide-awake to recognize them..." 
"...Mrs. Odell once told me that forgiveness had a whole lot more to do with the person doing the forgiving than it did with the person in need of forgiveness. She said holding on to hurt and anger made about as much sense as hitting your head with a hammer and expecting the other person to get a headache..." 
"... There's a blessing in everything if we open our eyes..." 
"...It's what we believe about ourselves that determines how others see us..." 
"...Oysters are a lot like women. It's how we survive the hurts in life that brings us strength and gives us our beauty... They say there's no such thing as a perfect pearl- that nothing from nature can ever be truly perfect..."

Rating: 4 out of 5- If you want a light, happy read that you can appreciate wherever you might be (in bed, at the pool, in the park, on your subway ride), then this should be your next book!


  1. Love the headache quote...

  2. How did I miss this? What a terrific review ... Thank you so much!